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WORLD WAR TWO (1939-1945)
Ariel was one of many manufacturers in England to supply motorcycles for the war effort. Although Ariel built over 42,000 bikes, not much is known about these historic models. The British War Office held a series of tests to determine the suitability of civilian motorcycles for military use during a six month period in 1935. The 10,000 mile test was on both streets & off-road conditions, with a 5,000 mile check-up and a full tear-down inspection at the conclusion of the testing. Seven motorcycle manufacturers were chosen to participate including: Ariel, BSA, Matchless, New Imperial, Norton, Royal Enfield, and Triumph.
The Ariel chosen for this test was a civilian-spec 1935 VA3 557cc single side-valve model. The only modifications were the addition of a crankcase shield, Dunlop sports rear tire, and a rear carrying rack. This model performed well in cross-country tests, had few defects, and was liked overall by the test team. However, since Ariel had already planned its replacement due soon, the War Office dropped it from the testing.
Ariel tried to renew the War Office's interest in the new models in Oct 1936 with the 600cc & 1000cc Square Four models. Both proved unsuitable for service due to excessive weight. In August 1939 Ariel offered the 1939 VA 497cc OHV single for evaluation against the War Office's Norton 16H. They also tested the 1939 W/VA 497cc side-valve single which had been lightened. The Ariels performed very well but by the end of testing Ariel had designed a new prototype, the W/NG.
The new 1940 W/NG was a 349cc OHV single that was based on a winning Scottish six-day Trials bike, and it was ready by mid-1940. The French government immediately placed an order. The British War Office only rated it as "fair, for use only in emergency purposes" by August 1940. However, due to the massive evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940 and the loss of the majority of England's top equipment, the War Office began ordering replacement motorcycles from all British makers. Ariel then supplied all possible models including civilian orders and even used bikes in good order (below). VH & VG (500 OHV singles), NH & NG (350 OHV singles), and even the VB (598cc SV single) models were put into service, although most of these only saw mainland war service for training & civil defense uses. The War Dept (Army), Air Ministry (RAF), Admiralty Dept (Navy), Ministry of Agriculture, Woman's Land Army used Ariels.
The W/NG models were supplied from 1939-45 and featured several unique parts over their production life. The frame and fork of the pre-war NG-NH were modified to increase ground clearance by one inch. The vibration damping handlebar clamp of the pre-war models was redesigned losing its rubber mounting that tended to slip when forced. The gas tank guage panel was eliminated and a fork mounted speedo driven off the front wheel was substituted. Elimination of the gauge panel also eliminated the oil pressure gauge, so the adjustable oil pressure valve in the timing cover was replaced by a check-ball and spring in the oil-feed end of the crank - the spring tension regulating the oil pressure to the valve gear. This modification continued after the war even though the oil pressure guage was again standard equipment. Dual tool boxes were standard, as were pannier frames, pannier bags, rear carrying rack, and headlamp mask. Alloy parts were left with a rough texture from sandcasting to eliminate reflection. Most rubber items were discontinued in 1942-43 due to severe rubber shortages, so the handgrips were made from canvas and the footrests cast steel. In an effort to conserve aluminum alloy, a pressed steel primary chain case and timing cover were used.
Despatch Rider Training: A wonderful color film of dispatch rider training from 1944 has been preserved by the Yorkshire Film Archive. Many types of bikes are shown including WNGs, Matchless G3s, M-20s, Norton 16Hs and more. To see the film click this link: Rough Riding Motorcycling.
Many motorcyclist's first ride on an Ariel was during military service. Because of its relatively high performance the OHV WNG was often prefered to the side-valve War Department bikes from BSA (M-20) and Norton (16H).
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